Sunshine for News Sheridan Square
remember the night the Russian Tea Room reopened – Nov. 4, 2006. I was
probably one of the first people to make a reservation. The reason was
the chef, Gary Robins.
I had eaten his cooking at the Biltmore Room a few years earlier, and I
wanted to see how Russian tasted when it came from his kitchen. I still
remember the foie gras pelmeni.
It was the very dish that Eloise at the Plaza would’ve ordered up if she had the flu.
thought of it fondly long after Robins left the Russian Tea Room. Then
for a couple of years the question was, where in the world is Gary
Robins? Now we know. Or at least we thought we did.
He went to Seventh Ave. South and took his foie gras with him. It’s a little like Eloise moving to the Chelsea Hotel.
But that’s too harsh. Sheridan Square is a better restaurant than its
vapid version of foie gras ravioli – the descendant of that Russian Tea
Room standby. I miss those pelmeni.
Sheridan Square is a big
space with lots of seats to fill – big bar, large dining room, sidewalk
seating. On a busy night, a waiter can be hard to find. But on a quiet
night, servers cluster around your table as if they were lonely. The
staffing can be a little uneven. It shows particularly when you want to
have a wine described.
When I asked for a glass of the Viognier
2005, I was told that some guy the night before had liked it a lot.
When I asked to try a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, I was told it was not
too full-bodied. It was the Dolly Parton of Cabernets.
the Russian Tea Room there wasn’t a wood-burning oven, but there is at
Sheridan Square. And nearly everything that comes out of it is
wonderful. The Carolina trout caught just enough smoke from the embers.
And the golden beets borrowed just enough sweetness from the honey
ginger vinaigrette. Sometimes, wood heat sucks the moisture from
whatever it cooks. But the halibut comes from the oven moist and barely
tinged by the smoke.
Sadly, the giant prawns were vastly better than the white bean mush that came with them.
the fluke sashimi was spot-on – rosy dominoes of flesh with a garden of
micro greens and yuzu vinaigrette. Over the past few years, I must have
eaten an acre of market greens, too many of them topped with poorly
poached eggs and listless pancetta. But the spring market salad here is
terrific. The best thing I ordered was a recurring special – the
hand-rolled pasta. It was a plate full of strozzapreti, which must mean
squiggle in Italian, with ground braised veal and bright green peas. My
partner refused to give it up.
And once I pried it out of his hands, I understood why. It’s unusual for veal to taste this summery, this buoyant.
another occasion, the veal medallions, wound in crispy pancetta, caused
a tiff at the table. But we made up over the luscious semifreddo. It
comes with chewy wheels of walnut tuile and a shot glass brimming with
prosecco and blueberries. It’s three desserts in one.
As big as Sheridan Square is, it was supposed to get even bigger. But last week, Gary Robins resigned and was replaced by Franklin Becker. So once again, the question is: Where in the world is Gary Robins?